Most of us associate forgetting things with losing intelligence and many of us bemoan our mistakes when we forget something crucial. However, it’s more beneficial for our brains if we’re forgetful because it helps us process and use information better. We can remember information that we need, ultimately making us smarter. Here are four ways that being forgetful boosts intelligence, backed by science.
Forgetting offloads the brain
Your brain is a supercomputer, brimming with information that you need to get through each day. However, if it becomes too overloaded, then you won’t be able to function, and daily life will become a struggle. Being forgetful of things helps your brain offload and focus on immediate concerns. According to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, “The dynamic changes in ACC (Anterior Cingulate Cortex) activation observed here might track changes in the strength of competing memories because the strength of competing memories inﬂuences the likelihood that retrieval will fail.” This means that forgetting unnecessary memories boosts intelligence because you’ll retrieve more important information and be able to use it faster.
Forgetting helps you adapt
You base your experiences on what you remember and how you remember it. This enables you to make actions and deal with conflicts accurately. Yet, memory can be faulty, and when your brain remembers something wrong, you won’t be able to retrieve crucial information that you might need. According to a study published in the journal Neuron, “Adult hippocampal neurogenesis promotes forgetting and forgetting enhances behavioral flexibility by removing or weakening outdated information.” This means that forgetting helps you adapt to situations and create newer, more accurate memories of them.
The brain can focus on more important processes
Memories, depending on their reliability, get stronger or weaker, and the weaker ones are forgotten to reinforce the stronger ones. This gives your brain more room to focus on its other complex processes. According to Anthony Wagner, one of the authors of the study published in Nature Neuroscience, “This confers benefits by allowing the brain to use less of its computational resources to recall what’s important, thereby making them available for other processes.”
Think of your brain like a machine that sorts and applies information every second. If too much information clogs it, it won’t be able to perform other tasks and its performance will worsen. By forgetting details that don’t matter, your brain can expend more energy on what will get you through your day.
Forgetting helps you make clearer decisions
As aforementioned, when your brain becomes too clogged with information that isn’t needed, it makes it harder for it to perform duties. Having inaccurate or irrelevant memories bombarding you constantly hampers your decision making, and makes you hesitate or even fail to understand what you need to do. When you forget certain details, you’re helping your brain make clearer decisions because it can focus on correct information and use it faster. According to Richard E. Cytowic, M.D of Psychology Today, “While it makes old memories harder to access, it gives us the most recent and relevant information with which to make decisions.”
A. Kuhl, Brice & Dudukovic, Nicole & Kahn, Itamar & Wagner, Anthony. (2007). Decreased demands on cognitive control reveal the neural processing benefits of forgetting. Nature Neuroscience. 10. 908-14. doi: 10.1038/nn1918.
Richards. B & Frankland. P. (2017). The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron. 94(6):1071-1084. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037